(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By COLIN FLYAP Sports Writer
Kentucky coach John Calipari shredded a letter he recently received at his home that did not include a return address.
If he or his third-ranked Wildcats are being criticized for their efforts down the stretch of their first loss at Indiana last Saturday, the coach insists he’s unaware.
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”I’m not that connected. Just so you know, I’ve hired somebody to do the Twitter and there’s somebody hired to do the Facebook. I’ll give them things that I want out there, but the reality of it is I don’t ever get anything back,” Calipari said Friday. ”Somebody sent a piece of mail to my house that didn’t have a return address or anything on it, so it got torn up. It never was opened. So, I don’t answer any mail that doesn’t have a return address with a name on it. We can’t get into that. The biggest thing right now for this team is we are so young.”
And eager. Freshman Anthony Davis wished he had another game to play as soon as Indiana knocked Kentucky from the ranks of the unbeaten in a 73-72 thriller on Saturday that also cost the Wildcats the top spot in the poll.
”Any time you lose you just want to go out there and play again just to get that win,” Davis said. ”Unfortunately we don’t play again until (Saturday) and we had the whole week off, so we had lots of practice, we practiced every day, went hard.”
Kentucky (8-1) had problems with perimeter defense, turnovers and free-throw shooting against Indiana and only got four points from star Terrence Jones. The Wildcats missed two free throws late and failed to run the correct defensive scheme in the closing seconds. Even against all that, Kentucky held the lead with 5.6 seconds left before Christian Watford’s game-winning 3.
”The way we lost really hurt,” Davis said. ”We’re upset that we lost that way and the fact that we lost. A lot of guys have been, before practice and after practice, putting in extra work.”
The Wildcats must learn to listen, too.
Calipari said each time he feels his message isn’t getting through, he recalls his instructions to his players from the final timeout against Indiana. Kentucky didn’t pick up the defense at the right position on the court, didn’t foul and then didn’t close out quickly enough on Watford.
”Every time they don’t listen in a drill or what I’m saying, I stop practice and I say, `5.6 seconds left and there’s a timeout. We’re going to pick up three-quarter court and when they get near halfcourt we’re going to foul. Do you hear me?”’ Calipari said. ”Every time they don’t listen, I bring that up just to make a point of, `You’re not listening to me.”’
But Davis said they recognize the pressure of playing at Kentucky.
”The target’s on our back,” Davis said. ”Everybody wants to beat us. We’ve got to be prepared for it.”
Jones didn’t speak to reporters because he was taking a final exam, but Calipari said his sophomore forward would be fine following a stat line that included six turnovers and just one rebound in 28 minutes.
”He knows. He can’t do that again. He’s a good kid and he had a bad game for whatever reason,” the coach said. ”The crazy thing is, we still had our chances to win the game and we got no breaks, none.”
They also failed to capitalize on free throws late. Kentucky went 10 of 17 against Indiana and is shooting 67.8 percent for the season, good for eighth in the 12-team Southeastern Conference.
”We’re just missing them,” Davis said. ”(We’re) shooting them right, just basketball gods didn’t want them to go in.”
Against Kentucky’s upcoming opponents, the Wildcats can easily rely on their athleticism instead of divine intervention. The Wildcats host Chattanooga on Saturday followed by Samford, Loyola (Md.) and Lamar before an in-state showdown with No. 4 Louisville on Dec. 31.
They’ll also get a new player in transfer guard Twany Beckham, who spent his first year and a half at Mississippi State. The 6-foot-5 junior will bolster the off-guard position, but it’s not clear just how much time he might receive in a rotation that’s relied on four freshmen, two sophomores and senior Darius Miller.
Beckham said he believes he’s done enough in practice to warrant a reserve role.
”I’m ready to go, man, it’s been a long time coming,” Beckham said. ”I think I have (earned some playing time), but with coach Cal, you never know. I come out every day and play as hard as I can and hopefully I can get some minutes on the court and help my team. “